Who Pays When the Wedding Is Called Off?

Canceling a wedding is never easy. However, what was initially supposed to be the beginning of marital bliss could quickly become a nightmare if those involved cannot agree on how to handle the cancelation. Does California have guidance in place to deal with canceled weddings? In one word, yes. Guidance on the various aspects of a broken engagement can differ, however, depending on the item or service in question.

Who Pays for the Wedding Itself?

Depending on how advanced you are in the planning stages of your wedding, you may or may not have signed contracts for a venue, officiants, wedding vendors, or other services related to the ceremony and reception itself. Some vendors and venues have policies that can eliminate or reduce your debt if you cancel. Even with a cancelation policy, couples stand to lose a great deal of money to wedding vendors when the wedding does not take place.

Whoever signed the contract with each vendor is usually responsible for paying the bill. Since engagement is not a legal contract with the same implications as marriage, you do not have to share debt with your intended partner if he or she is the sole party listed on the contract. However, if you both signed a contract, both of you are responsible for paying the bill.

It is a good idea to review any contracts carefully, even if you were not the one charged with making the agreements. In some cases, vendors may approach parties who did not sign the contract to collect debts made by former partners. While you may not be legally obligated to pay, it is important to know your rights.

Who Keeps the Ring?

California Civil code states that engagement rings are a type of gift with special considerations attached. If your relationship ends before the wedding occurs, you must consider who ended the engagement and under what circumstances. If the recipient of the ring refuses to go through with the wedding, the ring or the value of the ring goes back to the giver. If the end of the engagement is mutual, the same rules apply and the giver gets the ring. If the giver is the one who refuses to go through with the marriage, he or she does not usually get the ring back.

Of course, exceptions to the rule exist. Rings that were family heirlooms receive special consideration. In the case of fraud on the part of the recipient of the ring, the giver may still get the ring or the value of the ring, if he or she ends the engagement because of this fraud.

What Are Some Other Concerns?

If you and your partner lived together before the broken engagement, you may have property, other assets, or debt you accumulated while together. Though California law does not assign unmarried cohabitants the same rights as married partners, you are generally able to keep property, assets, and debt you brought into the relationship with you. You will divide any property gained during the relationship via equitable standards, mutual agreement, or any written contract you had.

Sometimes, premarital contracts assign payment of wedding vendors or other related costs to one spouse or the other. If you and your partner entered into a premarital contract, the terms of that contract will dictate the division of the debts. If you had any other verbal or written agreement, you may consider the contents of that agreement as it regards payment for the wedding, the ring, or shared debt and assets.

If you have questions regarding the division of assets and debts after a breakup, contacting a family law attorney is often your first step. An attorney can help you navigate the ins and outs of wedding debt and contracts.